Fuck Seal Press?

Posted by – April 19, 2008

I came back from visiting Betty upstate to find out that there is a huge mess involving Seal Press (my publishers) which came right on the heels of BFP’s departure last week.

So without pointing out every phrase and person involved, I’ll just say a few things as a white feminist who really only consciously became a feminist after reading Michele Wallace, and who, for nearly 10 years, worked for author Walter Mosley, who has written and talked about the absence of POC in the publishing industry, specifically.

The under representation of WOC in publishing has been a problem for a long time. The under representation of POC has been as well, in general. It’s not just chronic; it’s really fucking awful.

As a CCNY student, I’ll tell you what I’ve seen: that mostly the way this kind of discrimination and prejudice play out is that people hire people they know, or they hire people that other people they know recommend to them, and they all tend to know the same people. The networks of power & privilege in this country are still white, & largely male, but where they’re female, they’re also mostly white.

& It’s a sad state of affairs. Again, this coming from someone who found most of my feminism through the words of WOC, whether it was Wallace or hooks or Anzaldua. Being from a working class background that didn’t necessarily encourage intellectualism, it was the WOC who wrote about feminism who I understood best, and who spoke more closely to my own experiences of extended family, matriarchy, and invisibility. But of course I couldn’t understand what they were saying about what it’s like to be black in the world. I could try, but mostly I couldn’t ever understand it, and could only learn when to STFU and let WOC speak, which is what I try to do.

It’s not the job of WOC to educate white women about themselves. White women need to learn about WOC precisely because of their own privilege as white (just as non-trans people have a responsibility to learn about trans people, just as men have to learn about women, etc.). It is vital for white women to recognize WOC in whatever field they’re in and go to extra lengths to make sure they’re credited, because if there’s one thing white feminists need to understand it’s that if we have it rough, WOC have it harder, hands down. If white women are objectified, sexualized, assumed to be incompetent, and underpaid, black women experience all that x2. Maybe to the power of 2, actually.

If you want to read more on this particular brouhaha, there’s more to read:

There are all sorts of links within those, if you really must keep reading.

A final thought: one of the good things about having gone to CCNY is that I was in the minority as a white feminist; my asking questions or otherwise being ignorant didn’t become a burden to the one black woman available, as it might be at a lot of private colleges where the majority is still white women and minorities are still too few. That is, my ignorance could be spread around; it was the job of 15 black women to school me, as opposed to it being the job of one black woman to school 15 of her white peers. That made a huge difference. Still & all, I was lucky for being of a socioeconomic class where that was possible, and for being in an educational situation where my learning anything cross-cultural was encouraged but believe me, mostly I listened and read, a lot, before I even opened my mouth. The thing is, there were 800 languages spoken on campus, so that African-Americans learned from black South Africans and Caribbean Americans; Muslims learned from Hindus and Christians, etc. In a nutshell, the cross-cultural experience wasn’t only racial, which made it a lot easier to be an ignorant white person from the suburbs; it was always a revelation to many of my peers and writing students that all American white people weren’t rich, too. But white women in many other contexts can be quickly accused of fetishization or cultural imperialism if they want to learn from WOC, which is why more campuses and workplaces need to be diversified so that everyone is learning about everyone else. Otherwise, white women need to seek out women like Jasmyne Cannick, whose talk I presented here yesterday, in order to learn. In a pedagogical setting, or an activist setting, learning is much less of a problem. Creating more spaces where black people can talk about their issues is vital, as well.

In a sense, then, white folks: don’t make your ignorance someone else’s problem. It’s yours. Check out this stunning piece by joan olsson for white anti-racists in the meantime, and learn when to check yourself.

But do I think any feminist press should be boycotted? No. Any publishers still around right now are surviving by a string; female authors generally aren’t power brokers themselves. Putting pressure on feminist presses before putting it on mainstream presses seems foolhardy to me – the usual fight over the bottom rung of the ladder.

3 Comments on Fuck Seal Press?

  1. Donna says:

    Thanks, Helen. This controversy isn’t a pleasant topic, but it raises very important issues.

    Donna

  2. Red says:

    good post, helen.

    you’re totally right about white women (like me!) needing to school ourselves.

    tim wise if an anti-racist writer whose work i enjoy. he’s here: http://timwise.org/

    and you know what i thought was so interesting about all that brouhaha? seal press took it to a level that BA and the folks on her blog did not. i don’t recall anyone on her blog suggesting a boycott, but brooke warner seemed to think that was impending.

    anyway, i’m glad you posted on this.

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